Fulbright scholar shares experiences teaching abroad

A 2011 Linfield alumnus spoke about trials and triumphs during his year teaching on a Fulbright scholarship in his presentation, “From Festivals to Floods: A Year Teaching in Thailand” on April 29.

Craig Geffre, a recent graduate of Linfield from the anthropology department, taught in Thailand from October 2011 to October 2012. A big influence on his decision to teach abroad were his fond memories of the study abroad trip he went on while at Linfield, the Hong Kong program.

“I had an amazing time when I studied in Hong Kong,” Geffre said. “It was a big step out for me, and living in another culture, getting to know students from other countries and traveling around were all so much fun. When I got back to the U.S. I was actually a little bummed about being back.”

Once back, Geffre emailed the International Programs Office to see how he could get involved with the study abroad student activities on campus. Through helping the international students here, Geffre realized how much he loved intercultural education.

“That experience was a big part of what made me interested in applying to Fulbright,” Geffre said.

The Fulbright program was created after World War II to create intercultural bonds in the hope of avoiding future conflict. It promotes international education and exchanges between the U.S. and more than 155 other countries and awards 8,000 grants every year.

“The Fulbright objective is to make activists out of people,” Geffre said. “Seeing people from different countries humanizes them and makes them real, and you can break down those stereotypes. It helps to prevent war and exercise every possible option before going into a conflict.”

The application is challenging, but Geffre says it’s manageable if you commit early, stay motivated and utilize mentors.

“I wrote 12 drafts of my essay, and each mentor got three drafts,” Geffre said. “I’m sure they were sick of it, but they never complained.”

Geffre was interested in the Thailand program after working with a Thai monk for his senior thesis, but he explained how this program was a bit different from the others.

“For most Fulbright programs, being a teaching assistant means being an assistant. You’re there with a native teacher, and you help with pronunciation, lesson plans and things like that. For Thailand, Laos and a few other countries, you are the teacher. It’s a challenge, but you also learn a great deal.”

Geffre spoke about the difficulties of teaching in another country, including acclimating to a new school system, learning Thai and overcoming cultural stereotypes.

“Some people had ideas about Westerners from others they had met before,” Geffre said. “That you would be partying all the time, or wouldn’t be a good teacher, but you really have to show that you are serious, and the Fulbright scholars do a really good job of doing this.”

Geffre also spoke about the rewards of working within another culture and the lessons it taught him that he will continue to use throughout his life.

“I had so many failures the first semester, so many lessons that didn’t go the way that I wanted,” Geffre said. “But if you’re persistent and work to improve, you can achieve really great things. I made wonderful relationships with a lot of my students, and by working to understand the priorities of others I’m now a much better teacher, and I know so much more now than I did before.”

Geffre now works as the program assistant for Oregon University System for Programs in Asia, which works with students from the seven public Oregon universities, plus some private schools, like Linfield.

“I think the most important thing I learned was how to break down stereotypes, humanize people of other cultures, and understand the nuances of other cultures,” Geffre said. “While my students may not have learned a ton of English, they learned a lot about me and my life, and I learned a lot about them and their lives. We got to know each other as people, and that was what made my experience so amazing.”

Olivia Marovich

Staff writer

Olivia Marovich can be reached at
linfieldreviewnews@gmail.com.